FACTORS THAT FOSTER INTRINSIC MOTIVATION: ENJOYABLE ENVIRONMENT

The creation of an enjoyable teaching and learning environment is a fundamental aspect of intr insic motivation. Learners learn more profoundly when they enjoy what they do. If they like the input story, students are more likely to enjoy the rest of the learning process. But the input story is not the whole learning environment. This environment is also made up of “faculty-student interaction, the tone instructors set, (...) the course demographics, studentstudent interaction, and the range of perspectives represented in the course content and materials” (Ambrose et al., 2010). All these factors must also positively contribute to create an enjoyable environment.

Neuroscience confirms the connection between positive emotions and deep learning. There is a very strong connection between the frontal cortex, which is responsible for abstract thinking and other higher order cognitive competences, and the amygdala, which is the emotion hub of the brain (Zull, 2002). “Emotion is probably the most important factor for learning. Our feelings determine the energy with which we begin new challenges and where we will direct that energy. The actions we take are determined by how we feel and how we believe those actions will make us feel” (Zull, 2011).

Teachers’ intrinsic motivation to teach a course also contributes to the creation of an enjoyable atmosphere. Teachers’ motivation is contagious and passes along to students. “People automatically mimic and synchronize expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with others and consequently converge emotionally as a result of the activation and/ or feedback from such mimicry” (Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson, 1992; Mottet and Beebe, 2000). Teachers set the tone and atmosphere of their classes and influence their students’ emotions. When teachers are enthusiastic about the class, when they feel passion about the input stories, and when they are genuinely excited about what they are doing, then students will also be enthusiastic, passionate, and excited. This emotional contagion is, generally, an unconscious process, produced through the activation of minor neurons in our brains (Wicker et al., 2003). Minor neurons are considered intelligent cells that help us understand and interact with others (Iacoboni, 2005). The same neurons that activate when an individual carries out an activity also activate when the individual observes someone else do that activity (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004). We can all relate to that topic or discipline that we never cared about, but when we took a course on that topic or discipline with a particularly passionate teacher we were truly motivated to leam.

There are a number of factors that contribute to increase teacher motivation. One of these factors is the adoption of intensive teaching scheduling formats. Intensive teaching takes place when students take a course over prolonged and uninterrupted blocks of time, instead of the traditional semester-length course schedule formats that range from 60 to 180 minutes one, two, or three days a week. Teachers are more motivated when they teach for long periods of time, particularly if they teach, and students take, only one course at a time. Motivation increases even more for both teachers and students if they can have autonomy over the schedule and can work at their own pace when they feel like it without scheduling constraints (Pink, 2009).

FACTORS THAT FOSTER INTRINSIC MOTIVATION: SAFE ENVIRONMENT

Students also need a stress-free atmosphere to engage in the complex cognitive competences that the process demands. Students leam better and more profoundly when they feel safe and when they do not feel threatened by conscious or unconscious teachers’ and other students’ attitudes. Students also learn better and more profoundly if they can take risks, try, and make mistakes when the risks and mistakes do not affect their grades and when their attempts and risks are positively valued through feedback and a positive teacher attitude (Bain, 2004). Similarly, we also teach better when we feel safe and relaxed.

Consider the film Student Seduction (Svatek, 2003). When chemistry teacher Christie Dawson feels safe and protected in her school, she goes the extra mile to help Josh Gaines, a struggling student. When Josh misinterprets Ms. Dawson’s after-hour tutoring for sexual interest in him, he makes a pass at her, but she turns him down. Not used to rejections, Josh is furious. To avenge the rejection, Josh accuses Ms. Dawson of sexually assaulting him. The school principal and her colleagues do not support her while the police investigate the incident. Christie Dawson feels threatened, disvalued, and tense. Consequently, she acts nervously, does not think clearly, neglects to set boundaries with Josh, and makes mistakes that end up worsening her legal situation in the criminal investigation.

A stress-free environment is an environment that emphasizes learners’ independence and choice. If stirdents have plenty of options in choosing their goals, in selecting the teaching and learning activities that may help them achieve those goals, and in choosing the means to demonstrate their learning, they feel less stressed and are more likely to enjoy their learning process. In this respect, students can assume and bring to the learning process two different types of goals: performance goals and learning goals. The objective of performance goals is to do better than other students, get better grades, and receive more recognition than others. The aim of learning goals is to understand and master new knowledge (Tagg, 2003). Performance goals invariably lead to surface learning, whereas learning goals may be conducive to deep learning, particularly when stirdents themselves are involved in adopting their own learning goals. Helping students formulate their goals in a stress-free environment is one of the most important aspects for the creation of a safe environment. When students play a role in the determination of their goals, they are more likely to adopt learning goals and discard performance goals. This also fosters intrinsic motivation, as stirdents can relate those goals to their existing interests (Tagg, 2003).

 
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